Perhaps the biggest CinemaCon gathering yet in the seven years the reinvented ShoWest has been coming to Las Vegas kicked off tonight at the gigantic Caesars Palace Colosseum Theatre, where the nation’s theatrical exhibition community will gather over the next four days to see what’s in store for their theaters this summer and beyond.
Clearly, what this crowd wants to see is big and familiar. Sony Pictures Chairman Tom Rothman delivered on that as he promised the exhibitors tonight they would be seeing the “new Sony,” the result of their efforts the past two years. But this “new” product was heavy with the imprint of what has come before in one way or another and that seemed just fine, at least with exhibs in my section who seemed to eat it all up, particularly the stuff they’ve heard of. With studios threatening to tighten windows between theatrical release and home viewing for blockbuster movies, the pressure is on to deliver films that really play best in a movie house and nowhere else, at least for a while. Last week Good Morning America reported on an idea many of the majors seem to be entertaining, where pay per view of a major tentpole could be available as soon as 17 days after debuting in a theatrer, and for as little as $30. One anchor on the show loved the idea and suggested she might even invite the neighbors and charge admission, thereby making a profit for her family. Whether she was kidding or not (I think not), that kind of idea should send shudders down the spine of both exhibitors and studios. Certainly Sony Pictures, which was first out of the gate tonight with their presentation, is aware of what this audience wants – and needs – to hear. As Rothman cheekily said after revealing footage from Denis Villeneuve’s promising new Blade Runner 2049 (which the studio has internationally while Warner Bros. through their Alcon deal has domestic), “Netflix my ass. Let’s see you see that over there!”
The Sony Pictures presentation presented plenty of footage from their slate, and they brought lots of stars to push it which this largely Middle American audience loves. Taking turns Rothman, Worldwide Distribution President Rory Bruer, and Worldwide Marketing and Distribution head Josh Greenstein touted recognizable titles like new editions of The Smurfs (all animated this time), Hotel Transylvania, another edition of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Flatliners and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, which star Dwayne Johnson touted as respectful of the first, but “evolved and global.” The frenetic comic action between him and Kevin Hart (who appeared at CinemaCon in a funny pre-taped bit), as well as Jack Black, played well in Vegas.
There were brief looks at a new Denzel Washington untitled film from director Dan Gilroy; a horror opus in which cadavers come to life called, well, Cadaver; a raunchy girl comedy Rough Night which appears to be a female Weekend At Bernies starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and others; and a kickass actioner starring Taraji P. Henson called Proud Mary, in which the star seems to be channeling Pam Grier. Most promising was some genuinely clever and funny footage from the animated Emoji Movie, as well as that stuff from the new Blade Runner which jazzed the crowd especially since it was introduced by star Ryan Gosling who said he was just 2 when the first came out but finally caught up with it when he was about 14. “I saw everything that stole from it first,” he said.
Sony’s presentation opened with a killer clip from the SXSW sensation Baby Driver with director Edgar Wright and stars Ansel Elgort and Jon Hamm on hand. With 35 songs scored to the action of a car theft ring it has the feel of a feature length music video, with lots of stunt driving. Could be a sleeper which is probably why Sony just moved it earlier in the summer to June 28th. Stephen King’s “magnum opus” called The Dark Tower starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba was also given big play.
But clearly Sony is making one of the biggest bets on rebooting its cash cow Spider-Man franchise, as the spandexed webslinger joins the MCU or Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time, now mentored by none other than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) himself. The iconic Marvel comic book character’s return to big screen is set for July 7 and the studio unwrapped the second trailer at CinemaCon tonight. With three Tobey Maguire incarnations of Spidey, and two from Andrew Garfield (the last being in 2014), the studio and partner Marvel have decided to go younger, much younger and now we have Spider-Man aka Peter Parker as a 15 year old high school kid, played by 20-year-old Tom Holland (he actually turns 21 just before the film opens). About four hours before Marvel’s Kevin Feige, producer (and former Sony Chair) Amy Pascal, director Jon Watts and star Holland took the stage, Deadline was invited backstage to talk to Holland and Watts, and both were clearly excited about springing the new trailer on the theatre owners, even if the venue was a little daunting for both newcomers to this franchise.
“Vegas is surreal whether you are coming here for CinemaCon or not,” Holland told me in a place clearly big enough to be Celine Dion’s dressing room. “I am just as excited to see it as the fans are. There are 4000 people out there but I think they are all on our side. We are debuting this new trailer this evening and all I can say is the trailer is crazy, it really is next level crazy. It is a version of Spider-Man we have not seen before and I think the trailer really portrays that. It might take audiences just a half beat to adjust to the new take but I think once they do they will fall in love with it.”
The trailer does indeed promise lots of Marvel-specific stuff not seen before in this series, although filmgoers last year were given a taste when Holland appeared in a supporting role in Captain America: Civil War. But the real thrust of this edition is to show Spidey as a regular high school kid, a kind of coming-of-age superhero movie. Watts, who jumped from a little independent movie shot in 18 days called Cop Car (a terrific thriller I had on my 2015 Top Ten) to this big studio superhero movie told me the biggest challenge was taking something people think is so familiar and making it seem new.
He had been toying with the idea of doing a teen-oriented film, and as it turns out so had Marvel and Sony which had that twist in mind for this franchise which brings the studio together with Marvel. It was a match, and it didn’t hurt he had shown such promise with Cop Car.
“The challenge is to figure out how to make this new and fresh and feel vital, ” Watts said. “That is why you go to the movies, to see stories you haven’t seen before and that is what we are trying to do with this. The best coming of age movies get you into the head of the main character and make you feel the way they do. I wanted to keep it in his world, on his level.”
Watts praises his young star who he says he put through the ringer. “Tom embodies the character so perfectly, the sincerity, and the enthusiasm and the intelligence, and he can do a back flip,” he laughed as he described the intense physical rigors of the role for which he said a stuntman would just not be good enough. Holland actually sent in an audition tape in which he talked about himself in between doing gymnastic-style body flips. It probably didn’t hurt his cause in getting the role. He told me his dance training when he played the title role of Billy Elliot on stage was great preparation for this part. He also praised his co-star Michael Keaton who plays the villain Vulture. Keaton, who of course played Batman, gave him tips on being a superhero. “He’s a fantastic guy. I had an absolute whirlwind working with him. He gave me very solid advice from his time on working on Batman and it really did influence the rest of the shoot.”
Holland is signed for the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and in fact he had to agree to it before he even knew if he would get the part. He is also in the next Avengers film. Sony also has an animated Spider-Man film in the hopper as well. Watts, who looked at his watch telling me he had to get back as soon as he could to finish special effects and post production work on this one, doesn’t know yet if he will be doing another. He is just thinking about getting this done first. He was surprised at the constant pace of the shoot which lasted 80 days in the hot Atlanta sun.
“I have never shot for that many days before, just having to be on your feet on set for 80 days making decisions!” said the guy who made his last film in 18 days. “I had to remind myself to sit down. And right now, the only thing there is room for in my life is Spider-Man.”